The Picture Book Editing Process
Despite being the shortest books you could choose to write, getting a picture book text to work isn't easy. Picture Books require a different approach from other children's books for many reasons, but most importantly because of how the text and illustration has to work together. While the editorial process will go through similar steps as a book for older children, it is a much different way of thinking about the book. Here are the steps I recommend taking and what is involved at each one:
Step 1 - Editorial Assessment
When you've drafted your manuscript and are ready to start getting feedback on your work, an editorial assessment is the best first step. It looks at your book overall and assesses structure, writing style, market fit to not only inform you of what works well, but where you can make improvements. This type of assessment can result in recommendations for significant changes to your text, so there generally isn't an edit of the text itself at this stage.
Step 2 - Developmental Edit
A developmental edit can encompass a lot of aspects of the editorial assessment since it still focusses on the big picture. However, it will get more hands-on with the text and review additional drafts you produce, rather than a one-off report. This type of editing is a real opportunity to work with an editor to shape your text, taking in those considerations from the initial assessment, and then also addressing anything else that pops up in subsequent drafts.
Step 3 - Copy Editing
This step of looking at your text to make sure it's the best it can possibly be is sometimes rolled into a developmental edit (unsurprisingly as we're generally working with less than 1,000 words). However, by this point there should at least be some draft illustrations so you will need to start looking at how the text and illustrations work together. If you're an author/illustrator and have written the text alongside the illustrations, then it's likely that will be covered in the developmental edit as well. But if you've only been working on the text, this is the point to really start working with illustrations.
Step 4 - Proofreading
Proofreading is always the final step before any book goes to print. For anything illustrated, it's really important that the design is completely final. The proofread will check for any small errors that may need to be fixed before the book gets published.
Picture Book Editing FAQs
Do I need to have an editorial assessment?
In short, no. You could go straight to a developmental edit, but by doing that you're committing yourself to more edits and more expense. So I recommend starting with an assessment so you have an idea of the work that might be involved and to make sure the editor is a good fit for you. Then if you want to continue, you can start on a developmental edit.
Do I need all these edits if I want to be traditionally published?
It's worth knowing that if a publisher takes on your book, they will likely put it through an editorial process at their end. It's ideal to get your book in the best shape possible when you're trying to get a publisher, though, so you could start with an editorial assessment to start thinking about what that process might involve.
When should I commission illustrations?
If you're trying to get an agent or go through traditional publishing, you don't need to as the publisher will do this for you. If you're self-publishing, then it's best to wait until your text is nearly final before getting an illustrator involved - so ideally after the developmental edit.
Do you need descriptions of the illustrations to edit the text?
Image descriptions aren't necessary to start the editorial process. It's great if you have some ideas in your mind, but it's worth noting that an illustrator will bring a wealth of knowledge and talent to your text, so you shouldn't constrain them too much by having those illustrations thought out in detail already.